With our last day in Dalat, indeed our last real day of touring Vietnam – since tomorrow will start the escapade of the long trip home (Dalat to Saigon to Singapore to Perth) – we set out for an early breakfast at hour villa before our villa operated tour of Dalat. Mustering what little energy we each had left, as both of us had had a rough last couple of nights sleep and myself starting to feel like I am coming down with what Michelle has, we slothed our way up the steep cobblestone path to the reception counter where our butler, Hong, swiftly ushered us into a private car.
Before even arriving in Dalat with no prior tour organized both Michelle and I wanted to do a tour of some description. For us, organised private tours served as the perfect orientation for a city, and ensured that we at least got a taste of the highlights, with the option time permitting to return for seconds. Upon our checkin yesterday, as our butler Hong escorted us to our villa she asked if we desired doing a tour while we were here. Not having any literature on us about the variety of tours Dalat had to offer we both responded with the same vague ‘sure’ response, hoping Hong would provide further information. Without going into a list of tours, Hong immediately suggested the city tour; knowing from previous experiences that a city tour was usually the best orientation tour for a new town we agreed.
Once checked in, we immediately headed back out into town for lunch and supplies, so it wasn’t until much later that night that I began browsing through all of the literature that the hotel had on hand, including a rather thick booklet on tours. My heart sunk, I had not expected so many interesting tours to of been on offer, there was everything from various hiking tours (which since Sapa, I had become rather obsessed with) through to specialty tours such as the flower markets and touring the vast coffee plantation; two international exports that Dalat is famous for. It was too late to change anything now, so I pledged with myself that when we return to Vietnam we will spend more time in Dalat to indulge in some of these tours.
I am terrible when it comes to names, unless I attempt to associate the name of a person with some funny characteristic of themselves or attempt to bring the name into conversation a hand full of times, it goes in one ear and out the other. Our previous guides, two in particular had easy names to remember, Wiy (wee) our guide from Hue to Hoi An, made the joke to please not refer to him as wee-wee. Another Bi (bee) making a similar remark that his name was in no way related to a buzzing bee. These little anecdotes made their names instantly lock in my mind, and for that reason, I cannot recall the name of our Dalat tour guide, his name not memorable in anyway. Our Dalat guide, for arguments sake we’ll call him John had no real agenda for our city tour, as it seemed to be more something our butler had dreamt up. He offered us a few suggestions of places to check out but was clearly open to suggestions, seizing the opportunity I suggested the coffee plantation and the flower fields, John was more than happy to accommodate this, and so our tour commenced.
We did the traditional visit to a pagoda, something we had come accustomed to on every Vietnamese tour thus far and ventured out to various public gardens and flower green-house plantations, observing the process from growing the flowers to packaging them for international transport. We then headed out to the coffee plantation, unfortunately our visit was out of season, had we been in season we could of indulged in a more thorough guide of the plantation as well as sampling the various types of coffee, much like you would an Australian winery. The coffee beans here were also exported internationally, but it is all in the brewing and roasting that makes Vietnam coffee unique to the western world. Stopping on a gravel track off the main road, our guide ahead of us we snuck into a coffee plantation. Come to think of it, that has happened everywhere we’ve been; there had never been a question of seeking permission, we trespassed everywhere. Since the land of Vietnam is all owned by the government and leased to the people for lifelong durations, perhaps there was no harm in trespassing?
The beans were very much small and green with just a few trees possessing ready to harvest red coloured pods, our guide quickly pulling some from the tree and popping the pods in his fingers revealing the all familiar coffee beans.
Our tour ended with a trip to the local train station. The station once a major transportation route from the highlands to the coast now only ran a 7km stretch to a neighbouring town ever since the rail to the coast was damaged by B52’s in the war. Back in its day a steam locomotive ran the course. Today, the same locomotive rests, carriages connected at platform one, while is younger replacements; two diesel engines run the 7km stretch multiple times a day, the carriages they pull looking like they had come straight off the locomotive’s. The station was completely run down and not really much to look at, but it was clear our guide saw it differently insisting us to take photos of it from every angle as if it was Miranda Kerr on the catwalk. In fairness though it was currently under massive renovation, so hopefully the next time we visit I can go a bit silly with the camera, living up to the locals hopes.
With our tour over, probably the longest and most thorough tour we had ever been on, given the creative input we were invited to contribute we headed back to our villa. A small part of me disappointed that we hadn’t taken the opportunity to push harder on what was our last major stop. Unfortunately though, having not slept well the last few nights, suffering fevers and stomach cramps my body was forcing me to slow down and in a mixed turn of emotion I conceded. Our stay in Dalat was quite brief, and from the look of the tours and attractions our villa had listed, Dalat still had a significant amount to offer but I was satisfied that at the very least we had a brief but thorough introduction to Dalat.
Feeling a bit more chipper by the time we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, our one night, fly-in-fly-out stop, Michelle and I wasted no time and hit the local street markets which Michelle had fondly remembered from our last visit two years earlier. To my dismay, I was like a fish out of water, and it wasn’t until we were walking back to our hotel some hours later from the markets ready to retire for the night that I finally got my bearings.
Although Michelle got her bearings as soon as she set foot on the pavement outside of our hotel, we both agreed that the city had grown incredibly over the past few years, emerging itself as a twenty year-a-go Singapore. The streets were lined with a mixture of boutique shopping malls and local markets selling plenty of lacquer ware and tourist items. The markets were just as busy as I remembered, fortunately, unlike the locals whom wouldn’t of been able to see more than two people deep the tall westerners that we are (well, tall by asian standards) could see out and beyond the sea of bobbing black haired heads to the various stalls within the markets. Knowing that we each had a few extra kilos of luggage allowance to play with and a few hundred thousand dong left in our pockets we set out to buy up some last minute items.
Sure enough, just as we had experienced when we arrived in Moscow from St Petersburg, which we had presumed would be the dearer of the two for tourist items we were wrong again, passing by stalls of markets, each market practically representing a location we had visited, be it Sapa, Hoi An, Hue, all offering the items we had already purchased at these places for a fraction of the cost. At the end of the day though, there was nothing left to do but shrug it off and laugh, and perhaps buy an additional item, since the savings we’re talking about, of 50 to 60% off at the end of the day mean a mere $2 AUD off a $4AUD item – hardly worth shedding tears over.
With the last of our shopping done and with me chasing down a replacement padlock for the one I had incidentally left in Dalat we ventured to an old fav western style cafe for dinner. Although this trip we ate an INCREDIBLE amount of local cuisine (in some cases rather questionable) we were not against falling back from time to time to the more familiar western food selection. Almost considered a comfort food in a way, both Michelle and I longed for a specific western dish during the course of the trip, and whenever the opportunity arised we had seized it. For me it was KFC, there was nothing not to like of Vietnam KFC. For one, the KFC venues were far flashier than their western counterparts; food was presented on a nice labelled KFC oval shaped plate rather than the cardboard boxes we’re accustomed to back home with no change whether you’re dining in our out. The chicken tasted brilliant, not as greasy or oily as the western cooked chicken, and the fries – the holy grail of the meal were a perfect combination – McDonalds style fries with the seasoning of KFC’s fries and if that isn’t enough to convince my point, a meal cost 50,000 dong, just over $4.50 AUD. Being the only fast food giant out of the usual suspects to make it to Vietnam, we were lucky to encounter it in Hanoi and it became our regular lunch in Nha Trang, whether we were hungry or not.
Michelles meal of choice, and indeed worship was the good-old traditional burger. Similar to KFC, Michelle was on a good roll having found burgers on most menus wherever we went allowing her the freedom to choose between western and Asian cuisine. Unfortunately she was scared by a burger venture in Hoi An, the morning of the Photo Tour where we had worked up a rather incredible appetite having being up since 4.45am, skipped breakfast and ridden about 7km back into town. The beef burger that she was presented with was miserable to say the least, the thick juicy meat patty reduced to a few shavings of meat which look like they’d been hanging around for a while. Ever since that point, burgers were off the menu with her goal set on Burger King at Singapore Airport.
Although I wasn’t quick on the uptake as to recalling where everything was in Ho Chi Minh like Michelle was, I did recall that the menu at the western restaurant we were dining in was safe; having given it the two thumbs up of approval the last time we were there. So despite the burger fiasco in Hoi An, I immediately ordered the burger. Michelle on the other hand, still being cautious ordered pork with rice. Sure enough my burger came out, and as one would expect it was perfectly formed. Michelle glanced at me with a long face, looking across at my juicy burger then down at her average looking pork and rice. Softening the blow I bit into my burger, and after washing my mouth with a sip of Pepsi, shrugged Michelle’s way and said ‘it’s alright.’ Little did she know that it was possibly one of the best burgers I had ever eaten.
With our Jetstar flight now coming in for landing into Singapore, it seems appropriate to wrap this travel entry up, until the next international escapade.
“So on that bombshell” as Jeremy Clarkson would say, this is the end of the show… until next time.. good night!